Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
It’s a new year, it’s a new blog. Everything is perhaps slightly more interesting, even as we hurtle toward our inevitable death. Yay! I thought I’d kick this thing off with a listicle, because who doesn’t like a good, oversimplified distillation of ideas into an easily digestible format? Like a protein bar for your soul.
I’ve been around the Sun a few times since I started on this Path, and I’ve noticed a few landmines that people can run into when they are learning about and experiencing Thelema. The damage these common traps can do ranges from mildly irritating to catastrophic. I’m not going to make a general statement about how bad each one can get, because that really depends on the individual. What merely makes one person into an insufferable douchebag could drive another to madness and suicide. Also, the Ordeals I write not.
- Neglecting regular daily practice. Or just not starting and thinking that reading Crowley and fiddling with the Goetia is enough. Magical currents don’t work that way. You have to feed them, ingrain the symbols into your psyche, and develop the psychological and spiritual responses that will make you an expression of the forces you intend to invoke. If you leap into the Abramelin Working without having a foundation to work from, it’s a lot like trying to run the Boston marathon without going on shorter runs as a matter of daily habit. You will get winded, dehydrated, and will most likely collapse somewhere around the early stages.
- Finding the Key to the Mysteries. You haven’t. I can almost promise you this. No matter what mystic realization you’ve had, how intense it was, or how perfect it seems now, you need to realize that whatever central secret you think you’ve found, it is only central for you, right now. It will not stand the test of the ages, and probably won’t serve you for more than a year or two. You are an evolving, dynamic being that is part of an evolving, dynamic system. Your revelation is not forever, and is unlikely to enlighten anyone else. Avoid discussing it. It is probably best to destroy all but the shortest record of it immediately after you’re done processing the insight. To do otherwise is to risk being a very, very silly center of pestilence.
- Trying to be Aleister Crowley. Look, I know he’s the Prophet, but have you ever stopped to think about what that really means? A Prophet professes. They annunciate a Truth, and over time become identified with it so much that people can start to conflate them with it. This isn’t because they are perfect expressions of the Law they have been tasked with delivering. It’s more that they were in the right (or wrong) place at the right time, and had the skills necessary to get the job done. All this is to say that emulating every personality trait, attitude, and prejudice of Crowley’s is not the same as being a Thelemite. The Law is “Do what thou wilt” not “be a Crowley fanboy.” Unless that’s your Will. Nerd.
- Referring to Magick as a science, but ignoring actual science because it contradicts something Crowley wrote. Do we respect science or not? Because there is a whole raft of sociological, evolutionary, and psychological science that Thelemites routinely ignore because it undermines some idea Crowley expressed somewhere. He lived in the era of eugenics for fucks sake! “Social Darwinism” is anti-social behavior, and has nothing to do with Darwin. People barely knew what germs were yet. Mystical insights, personal bigotries, and attitudes picked up in childhood do not trump peer reviewed scientific inquiry and understanding.
- Thinking you can “fix” others or “push” them to “improve.” Unless you are in a mentoring relationship with someone, it is best to mind your own business concerning their behaviors and attitudes. You don’t know them, or what they need, or what forces are at work in their lives. Their Will might be something you don’t approve of, or look silly or even harmful to you. Assume that everyone’s Path is taking place in a larger context, and that where they are now is key to where they are headed in the end. If they fail, they fail. No one is in any position to tell someone who they are meant to be, and no one is responsible for another person’s Path.
- Making it political. Thelema is not libertarianism. It is not anarchism. It is not fascism. It is not secular humanism. It is not socialism. Thelema is Thelema, not something else. There are echoes of other ideas and philosophies, because it is a human construct built on those that have come before it. But Thelema is a unique expression of a particular kind of esoteric spirituality, and reducing it to an analogue of a political movement is degrading to both it and the systems you’re appropriating.
- Rejecting the things that make you uncomfortable. Whether or not Crowley was a perfect Adept, he still had quite a bit more knowledge and skill than the average person just starting to explore Thelema. He might have known something you don’t. Also, a great number of the things that make people “uncomfortable” do so because they contradict the Christianoid ideological frame that most of us have assimilated by being part of modern Western society. There’s a balance to be struck here between mindlessly aping Crowley and mindlessly rejecting Thelema or Crowley’s ideas because of some ingrained prejudice. This is thorny territory that isn’t easy to navigate. A solid intellectual and psychospiritual groundwork is key. It is necessary to both rely on your own judgement, and be willing to see when it might not be up to the task of evaluating a particular question. Sometimes, it is better to “try on” difficult aspects of a system to see how they affect you, or suspend judgement until you are ready to give them a fair trial.
- Believing that any organization can really Initiate them. An organization can help you prepare for Initiation, but in the end, the only Initiator is the Cosmos itself. Putting too much faith in an institution is a good way to be disappointed when the humans involved inevitably fail to fulfill your expectations. You are responsible for your own Path. Others are just there to help. (You should probably do something to help them in return, because you’re not a garbage person, right?)
- Taking the Oath of the Abyss as a Probationer. This is a classic example of a common tendency to think that you’re ready for the marathon before you’ve trained your body. It relates to number 1, but is different in that it involves a great deal of hubris coupled with a stunning level of ignorance. Spiritual development is not a vending machine, or a consumer matter at all. Instant gratification is something you’ll need to look for somewhere else.
- Overindulgence in mood and perception altering substances. “Overindulgence” in this case meaning “doing it instead of something that furthers your Will, to the point that it makes doing that Will impossible.” I would add almost any sort of media consumption here as well, but drugs and alcohol occupy a rather special place in Thelema. We are told to enjoy all that life has to offer, and to make use of substances as part of our Spiritual path. The issue here is intention. If you already have an alcohol problem, getting smashed is not “enjoying all things of sense and rapture.” It’s just continuing your alcoholism. Make sure you have a realistic idea about where your line between indulgence and slavery to a substance or experience actually lies.
As I said at the beginning, these are patterns I’ve observed over time that have led to obvious issues. There are probably more. The ways that a Path can go awry are almost certainly more than the ways it can work well in someone’s life. As the common sentiment in my Oasis goes “It’s not called the Great Vacation!”
Love is the Law, love under will
Momento Mori. Omnes Una Manet Nox.